The annual Madden NFL Super Bowl prediction series is in a funk. EA Sports’ official pregame tradition has dropped the ball in four of the last six championship games ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida.
Rather than hide in the shame of a slump, EA went bigger than ever with its big reveal ahead of Super Bowl LIV. Ditching the simple press release, the sports gaming giant unveiled its official simulation at EA Sports Bowl 2020 on Thursday night in Miami. This year, Madden NFL 20 foresees the Kansas City Chiefs topping the San Francisco 49ers, 35-31.
Even the lead-up to Thursday’s prediction had more of a championship feel than in past years. Brothers Peyton and Eli Manning, each a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, were enlisted to work their usual comedic commercial magic in ads like this to promote the pick. In the promo, Peyton dons a lab coat, “working” at the fictional, cutting edge EA Sports Prediction Lab. Eli is tasked with the major responsibility of protecting The Button, which generates the prediction, until the time is right and enough user-provided games are “fed into the machine.” Goofy, brotherly banter ensues, and a good time was had by all who watched.
“It was a great experience to unveil the prediction,” said Eli Manning in a statement released by EA. “We’ll see on Sunday, if the Chiefs will prove Madden right and take home that Super Bowl ring.”
With The Button pushed and the cat out the bag, we now know how Madden foresees the Chiefs getting the job done Sunday thanks to this year’s Madden cover boy Patrick Mahomes. The third-year quarterback and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player finished the virtual Super Bowl LIV with 392 passing yards, four touchdowns, and one interception to earn game MVP honors. The game-winning TD came in the closing seconds, when Mahomes connected with wide receiver Sammy Watkins for an 18-yard score. Niners running back Raheem Mostert punched in a pair of scores — one on the ground and one through the air — in the losing effort.
But how confident can anyone be in any of these predictions coming to pass? Last year’s CPU-against-CPU prognostication, a thrilling 30-27 victory by the Los Angeles Rams over the New England Patriots not only got the winner wrong but completely whiffed on the type of game 98.2 million viewers endured. Tom Brady and the Patriots won it all for the sixth time this century in a bland 13-3 championship. The 41-point differential between total points in Madden’s pick and the actual result was the most dramatic in its 16-year history.
The Madden Super Bowl simulation wasn’t always so off base. Early results were pretty darn accurate considering how relatively unsophisticated the software of the time was. EA’s first attempt utilized Madden NFL 04 on PlayStation 2 to project New England’s Super Bowl XXXVIII win over the Carolina Panthers. Not only did the sim generate the same three-point margin of victory that manifested on the field at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, but even the flow of the real game wasn’t all that far off from the Madden version. Both featured a relatively modest first half of action before giving way to a fast-paced final 15 minutes. The actual game saw a very arcade-like five touchdowns in the fourth quarter between the two teams, while Madden’s version yielded three of the four TDs scored all game. Ultimately, Madden’s 23-20 score was too conservative, as the Pats won 32-29 on a last-minute field goal.
Madden’s sims flawlessly predicted the winner in each of its first four years. The run of success extended to nailing the champion six of the first seven times and eight out of 10. By the time Madden NFL 13 accurately had the Baltimore Ravens defeating San Francisco by three points in Super Bowl XLVII, its predictive power over the big game was about as reliable as the infamous “Madden curse,” a decades-old pattern of cover athletes frequently suffering from either injury or diminished level of play in the aftermath.
If you happened to be in Las Vegas every Super Bowl weekend between 2004 and 2013, you’d have cleaned up with money line bets by letting Madden be your North Star. The betting favorite only won six out of 10 times, compared to the 80% success rate of the video game. Madden boldly projected the betting underdog to win four straight years from 2010 to 2013, getting it right three times and defying conventional wisdom.
The annual pick’s level of success peaked five years ago with EA Sports’ first and only perfect score: Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24. The 2015 simulation from Madden NFL 15 was eerily accurate in projecting individual player stats and game scenarios. Madden was on point with Brady as its Super Bowl MVP with 335 passing yards and four touchdowns. Actual Super Bowl XLIX numbers: 328 yards and four TDs. And then there’s wide receiver Julian Edelman, who capped a New England comeback from a 24-14 third-quarter deficit to score the game-winning touchdown — yep, Madden got that right too. The simulation even came within three receiving yards of his actual total (109). The old EA Sports slogan, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game,” may never have been more accurate.
The ball just hasn’t bounced Madden’s way of late. The sim has flubbed picking the winner in three of the past four years. But it’s not just getting the winner wrong. Each of the last two simulations’ total points scored was off by at least 30, by far the most of the past 10 years. In Madden’s defense, last year’s game was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, and the previous year’s game in which the Philadelphia Eagles outpaced the Patriots, 41-33, featured the second-most points in 53 Super Bowls. In other words, they’re anomalies.
Picking the Super Bowl MVP hasn’t always worked out for Madden, either. Over the last 11 years, the sim game’s top player went on to claim the highest individual honor just five times. To be fair, every Madden simulation’s MVP came from the winning side, so the degree of difficulty in that prediction is way higher. Take into consideration that the only time the actual Super Bowl MVP came from the losing team was 49 years ago, so there’s just about no way to get the MVP right without the correct winner. Out of the last five times, Madden picked the correct winner, it also got the game’s MVP right. Can’t really ask for much more than that.
It’s not as if the gaming community gets too worked up about what EA’s official Super Bowl prediction means. The Madden subreddit doesn’t have much to say in any given year. Check the comments section of a typical gaming news outlet’s write-up of a past year’s Madden simulation, and most of the chatter turns to dissecting the actual matchup, bashing Brady, or dismissing the prediction series as something that used to be accurate but no longer is. This time of year is full of predictions from video games, groundhogs, grizzly bears, old episodes of The Simpsons, and more. Who’s to say one predictor is better than another?
So what are the odds EA’s sports titan gets back in the win column? About the same as the aforementioned rodent.
Here’s the full rundown of predictions through the years:
2004: Patriots 23, Panthers 20 (Actual score: Patriots 32, Panthers 29)
2005: *Patriots 26, Eagles 21 (Actual score: Patriots 24, Eagles 21)
2006: Steelers 24, Seahawks 19 (Actual score: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10)
2007: Colts 38, Bears 27 (Actual score: Colts 29, Bears 17)
2008: Patriots 38, Giants 30 (Actual score: Giants 17, Patriots 14)
2009: Steelers 28, Cardinals 24 (Actual score: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23)
2010: Saints 35, Colts 31 (Actual score: Saints 31, Colts 17)
2011: Steelers 24, Packers 20 (Actual score: Packers 31, Steelers 25)
2012: Giants 27, Patriots 24 (Actual score: Giants 21, Patriots 17)
2013: Ravens 27, 49ers 24 (Actual score: Ravens 34, 49ers 31)
2014: Broncos 31, Seahawks 28 (Actual score: Seahawks 43, Broncos 8)
2015: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24 (Actual score: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24)
2016: Panthers 24, Broncos 20 (Actual score: Broncos 24, Panthers 10)
2017: Patriots 27, Falcons 24 (Actual score: Patriots 34, Falcons 28)
2018: Patriots 24, Eagles 20 (Actual score: Eagles 41, Patriots 33)
2019: Rams 30, Patriots 27 (Actual score: Patriots 13, Rams 3)
2020: Chiefs 35, 49ers 31 (Actual score: Chiefs 31, 49ers 20)
*Although widely reported as 47-31 Patriots, an old EASports.com item has the score as 26-21 Patriots.